With co-founder Melissa Chittick, Steve Salmons started the San Francisco Silent Film Festival with a dream, excellent organizational skills, and a firm belief that there was a whole new audience just waiting to rediscover this exquisite art form. To judge by the the way the festival always packs the Castro Theater, a vintage silent movie palace seating over 1000, he was right.
Each year’s festival features a dynamic mix of films from stars that are still well known, this year’s GO WEST with Buster Keaton for example, and lesser known luminaries who are ripe for re-discovery, such as James Murray and Eleanor Boardman in King Vidor’s THE CROWD. Comedy, religious drama from Mexico, melodrama from Lon Chaney, a contemporary film based on a Japanese fairy tale, Disney cartoons before Mickey for the kids, and surrealistic films from France made for a programme that offered a wide-ranging example of everything that the silent era had to offer.
When I spoke with Salmons on June 22, 2003, the conversation covered film history, how hard it is to find people from the silent era to participate in the festival (this year Disney star Virginia Davis appeared), and what it was about Thomas Milford’s CLAIRE that convinced the festival to break its hard-and-fast rule about showing contemporary silent films. I began by asking about the festival’s continuing expansion as they approached their eighth year.